The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology

Charles H. H. Scobie,  The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.

Charles Scobie, Cowan Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Mount Allison University (Sackville, New Brunswick), has written a massive volume on biblical theology.  It is called The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical TheologyOver the next week or two, I hope to provide brief commentary on this large work that shows promise for being a helpful guide to discerning some of the major biblical-theological themes found in the Bible.  Today let me mention Scobie’s introduction.

In 103, heavily-annotated pages, Charles Scobie traces the history of biblical theology from Irenaeus to Gabler to Goldsworthy.  His first chapter gives a cursory definition of biblical theology; his second chapter surveys the major contributors to biblical theology; his third chapter lists “new directions in biblical theology;” and his fourth chapter, which is the most involved in Section I, analyzes varying methods of biblical theology.  This leads Scobie to his final chapter in Section I, which outlines the biblical theological structure that he will flesh out in Section II.

Section I is a helpful prolegomena to Biblical Theology in general, and specifically it argues for biblical theology in a soberly optimistic fashion.  Scobie divides the history of biblical theology into three basic eras.  He terms these integrated biblical theology (pre-Enlightenment), independent biblical theology (18th Century until mid-20th century), and intermediate biblical theology, of which Scobie advocates.  He is realistic enough to recognize that interpreters cannot ignore the advances of historical-critical studies and try to return to pre-critical methods of reading the Bible, but at the same time he also asserts the shortcomings of historical-critical methods which divorce the Bible of any unified meaning or faith-engendering message.

Scobie lays out some of his presuppositions in these earlier chapters and clearly articulates a desire to read the Bible as a Christian and to understand it in the community of the church for the sake of believers.  He writes, “The presuppositions of this study include belief that the Bible conveys a divine revelation, that the word of God in Scripture constitutes the norm of Christian faith and life, and that all the varied material of the OT and NT can in some way be realted to the plan and purpose of the one God of the whole Bible.  Such a BT lies somewhere between what the Bible ‘meant’ and what it ‘means'” (47).  In this last sentence Scobie shows the way in which he sees biblical theology acting as a “mediating bridge” between rigorous biblical exegesis, which focuses on the details of history and language, and Christian theology, which aims to answer questions of belief and practice for the church.  Honestly, I would want to say more than Scobie at this point, but this is a great improvement on all those interpreters who seek to undermine the Bible.

Scobie goes on to layout his method of study and his structure.  He advocates a canonical method that reads the Bible in its final form.  In fact, Scobie, a la Stephen Dempster, Roger Beckwith, and more recently Jim Hamilton, argues for the intentional and theological shaping of the canon–in one place going into intricate detail to argue that the 22 books of the OT and the 22 books of the NT bookend the Christocentric books of the Gospels and Acts, to make a number totalling 49, which marks numeric perfection and signifies the number of Jubilee (71).  Such specificity seems a little speculative but certainly it is an interesting proposal which adds to the possibilities of canonical studies.  However, Scobie is not a proponent of a singular unifying theme in the Bible.  Rather, Scobie holds to a multi-thematic approach.  After surveying the doctrinal, historical, and thematical approaches posited by others, he concludes,

A systematic approach, based on categoreis imported from dogmatic theology, is to be rejected as tending to a certain degree to distort biblical thought, and as failing to deal adequately with all aspects of the biblical material.  A historical approach tracing the development of biblical thought period by period or book by book is of course valuable, but it belongs rather to the kind of historical study of the Bible that is presupposed by, rather than part of, an ‘intermediate BT.’  The most satisfactory approach is clearly the thematic one that seeeks to construct an outline based as closely as possible on themes [plural] that arise from within the Bible itself (87).

Finally, as Section I closes, Scobie proposes how he will advance his biblical theology in Section II.  He outlines a fourfold schema that will trace God’s Order, God’s Servant, God’s People, and God’s Way throughout the Bible.  Respectively, these four themes generally correspond with other proposals: the kingdom of God, the person of Christ, the biblical covenants, and a more unnoticed theme, the life and ethics advocated throughout the Bible.  He references these other proposals and underscores why he is synthesizing them into his multithematic approach.   Though, I am preferential to a singular theme with multiple layers of biblical sub-themes, Scobies approach seems to run more parallel.  It nicely picks up the progressive nature of biblical eschatology, while maintaining the complexity of the biblical canon.  Moreover, under each section Scobie contends that each theme is developed according to another four-fold schema, namely proclamation and promise in the OT and fulfillment and future consummation in the NT.  In this recapitulation of events, Scobie adheres follows an already-but-not-yet pattern that unfolds throughout the Bible.

Much is to be commended of Scobie’s approach, especially his willingness to understand the Bible on its own terms and his desire to let his structure arise from the Bible itself.  His work summarizes well the work of others over the last one hundred years and should serve as a good resource for grasping the literature on biblical theology.  However, this one-hundred page introduction makes up only a small portion of his work.  He devotes over 800-pages to unfolding his biblical theology that should provide ample reflection on how the Bible is put together.  I look forward to reading it, digesting it, and better understanding the Bible because of it. 

For another brief reflection on Scobie’s work, see Tom Schreiner’s review.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Bauckham’s Jesus and The God of Israel (pt. 2): Other Studies in NT Christology

Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

Chapters 2-8

Chapter 2 was first published in Out of Egypt, volume 5 in the Scripture and Hermeneutics series, and addresses the “problems of monotheism” in recent interpretation. Bauckham spends over twenty pages addressing current opponents of biblical monotheism (i.e. Nathan McDonald: monotheism as an organizing principle (Enlightenment); Robert Gnuse: monotheism as evolutionary model (history of religions)), and then appeals to early sources and the biblical canon to show how monotheism is understood biblically. Scripture reserves unique and unparalleled language for God. Moving from Old to New, Bauckham shows how NT texts like Rom. 28-30; 1 Cor. 8:1-6; John 10:30 use monotheistic texts from the OT in ways that preserve the singular nature of God and yet expand the application to include the identity of Jesus.

Chapters 3-5 consider three biblical concepts or themes that relate to the topic of monotheism and Jesus identity. Chapter 3 makes the case that El Elyon is not akin to the gods of Greek mythology, who exist in some kind of pantheon or divine council. Rather in the biblical witness, El Elyon refers to the God who is utterly transcendent, unique, and solely Divine. Bauckham distinguishes between ‘exclusive’ and ‘inclusive’ monotheism (108), and proves from texts like Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and other Jewish literature that the God of Israel is exclusively God. Moving from uniqueness in name and identity to uniqueness in worship, Bauckham considers the worship of Jesus in chapter 4. Since worship is absolutely reserved for God alone (cf. Ex. 20:1-3), it would be forbidden for Jesus to receive worship unless he was God. Bauckham points this out and then describes the historical records to prove how the early church unanimously worshiped Christ, proving again the mutual identification of Jesus and God. Finally, in chapter 5, Bauckham considers the “throne of God and the worship of Jesus.” Like in the last chapter, worship of Jesus proves his identification with God, but now Bauckham goes a step further highlighting the way Jesus shares in God’s throne. Speaking of Daniel 7, he writes, “the Son of Man participates in God’s unique sovereignty, and accordingly portrays him seated on the divine throne” (170). This OT vision is corroborated by the New Testament’s unique use of Psalm 110 and John’s apocalypse, where both indicate a kind of shared throne. Bauckham’s conclusion is that this again proves his thesis.

Finally, chapters 6-8 each look at a different NT author and the way they worked out Jesus divine identity. Chapter 6 looks at the apostle Paul; chapter 7 examines Hebrews; and chapter 8 finishes with a study of Mark. With Paul, Bauckham finds that his interpretations are unique and unprecedented in antecedent Jewish literature. Therefore, the kind of exegetical method he employed is not appropriated from his culture, but was revealed to him—probably on the road to Damascus, certainly by the Spirit of Christ. This interpretive novelty resulted in theological formulations of Christ’s divine Sonship that transcend Jewish contemporaries. The book of Hebrews is no different. From the “full divinity of the Lord” described in the opening chapters, to the heavenly mediation of his priesthood, to the simple ascription of Jesus unchanging nature (13:8), all of Hebrews points to Jesus identity as God. In chapter 8, Bauckham concludes with a brief exegetical consideration of Mark’s portrayal of the passion. He concludes once more that Jesus is identified with God in the book and that this theme reaches its zenith at the cross, where ironically as God fades in view, God’s son is revealing the very heart of God—“self-giving love.”[1]

In the end, there are points where Bauckham overstates his case and the steady drum he beats becomes drone-like.  Yet, this weakness only complements his greatest strength, which is convincingly proving his point and expounding his thesis—“the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity” (19).  The reader, this one at least, comes away from the book feeling very compelled by his argument–Jesus shares the Divine Identity with the Father.  (I must insert here that Andrew Chester, in his book Messiah and Exaltation, is less convinced than this reader by some of Bauckham’s handling of Jewish literature–no doubt because he knows this material much better than I.  See Jim Hamilton’s book review, especially his notes on chapter 2, for a synopsis–or take out a loan and buy the book, $200+).

In all his biblical research, his arguments touch on many systematic doctrines—Christology, Theology Proper, and Theological Hermeneutics, being a few—yet, staying in his field of expertise, he has not interfaced his conclusions with doctrinal formulation. In this way, his conclusions seem to be most directed toward the biblical exegete. Therefore, there is much that can and should be done with this data to integrate it with other more philosophical and theoretical Christologies. Applications for Trinitarian research and theological method are only two possibilities. Moreover, how does the Holy Spirit fit into the paradigm?  And, how does this Christology of identity interface or improve functional and ontic Christologies?  Bauckham wants to dismiss these categories, I would prefer to reform/inform with more biblical data.

On the whole, Bauckham’s book is a fine work. He is a meticulous scholar, whose biblical theological insights are well-researched and spiritually-enriching. I look forward to the completion of his project on this subject.


[1] Here again, I hesitate, because I am not sure what Bauckham is saying about God (i.e. Theology Proper). Much of his language does not distinguish God the Father and God the Son; it only speaks of God and Jesus. This kind of generic language for the cross is unhelpful, because it was God the Son, alone, who died on the cross. Ironically, while Bauckham, in his whole presentation, is comparing Jesus to God, I recall little Trinitarian notions of Son and Father. It is primarily Jesus (the man) and God (the divine).  But I will not fault him greatly, because his work is intentionally exegetical, not systematic.

Book Review: Inspiration and Incarnation

Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005).

Peter Enns, Old Testament scholar, author, and blogger, has stirred up the evangelical community with his book, Inspiration and Incarnation (Baker, 2005)Challenging evangelicals with a bevy of interpretive problems that he finds in the Bible, Enns proffers a new approach to reading the Bible that attempts to move past the fundamentalist-modernist impasse (14-15).  He suggests an incarnational analogy for understanding the Bible (17-18), and he explains how this model, which mirrors Christ’s humanity and divinity, better articulates Scripture’s concurrent inscripturation. 

I am not so convinced.  Let me summarize and analyze:

In chapter 1, Enns attempts to move past the “Bible Wars” and to provide a better way of reading the Bible.  The model he proposes is one that aims to avoid the strictures of dogma; one that instead reads the Bible in its own culture and presentation.  That sounds great, but just doesn’t work.  By ignoring the lessons learned from the modernist controversy, Enns heads in the same perilous direction–diminishing, if not denying, the uniqueness, unity, and inerrancy of God’s inspired Word. 

In chapter 2, Enns discusses Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) similarities to the OT documents and the impact that recent archaeological discoveries have had on Old Testament research.  While his survey of the extant material is itself helpful, his conclusions blur the uniqueness of God’s Word.  Enns compares Genesis 1-11 to the pagan myths of Israel’s neighbors, without advancing positions that retain God’s unique and direct inspiration of the biblical authors; he equates the OT law with the common laws of the ANE world, discounting their divine authority; and he shows how Israel’s Monarchic history may not contain the full accounting of historical events, which cast a shadow of doubt on the text. 

Taken together and without any opposing voice, Enns chapter leaves the reader with gaping holes in his ability to trust the veracity of Scripture.  Methodologically, he fails to present other evangelical and scholarly explanations for these matters, that have given more faithful, and in my opinion better explanations for the issues at hand.  G.K. Beale exposes this shortfall in his JETS article “Myth, History, and Inspiration” (2006), pointing to  D.J. Wiseman, Alan Millard, Meredith Kline, Daniel Block, and Richard Hess as better Old Testament interpreters.

In chapter 3, Enns highlights many source of diversity in the OT (i.e. Wisdom literature, Chronicles, and the Law).  To Enns diversity is not a commendable expression of God’s complexity in divine revelation, but a human problem that arises from competing truth claims–though “truth claims” may be too dogmatic and propositional for Enns.  These ostensible contradictions are better seen as divinely inspired tensions in Scripture that thicken the unity of Scripture than multi-authored inconsistencies. 

The intentional complexity and tension of the Bible can be seen in passages like Proverbs 26:4-5, which on the surface seems to present two antithetical statements side-by-side.  On further consideration, however, these opposing proverbs are better understood to give a balanced and situational word of counsel for thos handling a fool–sometimes you respond, sometimes you don’t (cf. Ecc. 3:1-8).  So then, Scripture is filled with tensive verses that add texture, clarity, and nuance the metanarrative, but it is an unnecessary conclusion to reject unity at the expense of perceived diversity.

Then in chapter 4, Enns addresses the issues of the New Testament interpretation of the Old.  He argues that NT authors employed the same interpretive methods as their Jewish counterparts in Second Temple Judaism without qualification. “What is true of the Wisdom of Solomon is true of the New Testament” (128).  So it seems that Enns is forcing on the NT writers the precise hermeneutic of their day, leaving no place for any kind of Spiritual leading (cf. 2 Peter 1:19-21) or revelation (cf. John’s apocalypse and Paul’s heavenly vision).  Now, his approximation of Second Temple Judaism with the New Testament does not require denial of the Holy Spirit’s involvment, but Enns fails to articulate any kind of divine revelation.  Rather, the New Testament authors, steeped in the culture of their day, are manipulaters of OT texts to speak a fresh word from God.

Consequently for Enns, the method of interpretation used by the apostles entails allegorizing and reinterpreting the OT text without respect to the OT context.  This creative hermeneutic is then endorsed by Enns as the way we ought to read and apply Scripture.  However, Enn’s “apostolic hermeneutic” looks like a train without any brakes.  What of authorial intent?  apostolic authority? and divine inspiration?  The result is more than just a hermeneutical spiral that correlates the biblical text with the reader, it fringes on a postmodern, reader-response method of interpretation that allows contemporary settings and local identity to redefine the passage of Scripture.

In the end, Enns book while attempting to read the Bible “honestly and seriously” (107) results in focusing on incarnation to the exclusion of inspiration–ironically,”inspiration” which is a part of the title, doesn’t even get a reference in the subject index. 

Whereas previous evangelicals have emphasized God’s sovereign inspiration of the Bible, and perhaps at times they have done this too mechanically (i.e. dictation theory of the inspiration), Enns goes too far the other way and ‘humanifies’ the Bible so much that Scripture’s uniqueness, unity, and inerrancy are left undefined and compromised.  Any biblical theology built on this foundation will have insufficient support to build straight;  inevitably the doctrines erected on this foundation will lean, totter, and fall. 

And I am not the only one to see this.  Most notably, G.K. Beale’s evaluation produced a 300-page rejoinder, The Erosion of Inerrancy in EvangelicalismTrevin Wax  also evaluates Enns doctrine of Scripture while providing a host of links that extend the conversation.

Sadly, Enns books stands in a long line of texts that seek to find a middle road between historically orthodox, protestant, and evangelical interpretations and all those competing models that “erode” the Biblical witness (cf. Gnostic, Catholic, Modernist, Postmodernist).  History teaches us that a middle road is not possible.  Only those systems of theology which begin and end with a full-orbed doctrine of Scripture–inspired, infallible, inerrant, authoritative, necessary, and sufficient–can ever produce and sustain over time doctrines that cohere with the content of Scripture.  All other attempts build with wood, hay, and stubble, and the results are disasterous.

May we not grow weary in contending for the faith once for all given to the saints.  The integrity of the Bible deserves our life and our sacrifice.  And as we labor,  may we continue to pray for those who teach us the Word of God and for ourselves that we would not be deceived into following the temptations to minimize God’s inerrant Word.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Three Views on the NT Use of the OT: Final Thoughts

nt-ot1Final Thoughts

Overall, the book is helpful.  It is laced with exegetical examples and principles for interpretation.  I am not a big fan of the 3, 4, 5-views kind of books, but this book may be an exception.  It showed the value of rigorous exegesis and developing antecedent theology from the OT to understand NT passages in their context (Kaiser), it demonstrated how historical-exegetical and canonical-theological readings of the text are not at odds with one another, but together help interpret the whole Bible (Bock), and in a shorter piece than his controversial Inspiration and Incarnation,  it showed some of the extra-biblical tendencies that Peter Enns espouses in his reading of Scripture.  For those reasons, I commend the book for pastors and students of the word who want to read their Bible’s more faithfully.

For those interested in the subject of hermeneutics, biblical exegesis, and systems of interpretation, I would encourage you to look at these other helpful books (the first two are very basic and accessible; the last four are more technical):

According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible by Graeme Goldsworthy.

Let the Reader Understand by Dan McCartney and Charles Clayton.

Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testament edited by John Feinberg.

The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegemona to Evangelical Theology  by Richard Lints.

The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New compiled and edited by G. K. Beale (who is supposed to be coming out with a book on this subject; that should be an excellent treatment)

Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament edited by D.A. Carson and G.K. Beale.

 Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Three Views on the NT Use of the OT: Darrell Bock

nt-ot[In Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Peter Enns, Darrell Bock, and Walter Kaiser present three different approaches to biblical interpretation.  They address questions concerning sensius plenior, typology, Jewish methods of interpretation, matters of contextual interpretation, and whether or not we today can interpret the Bible like the New Testament authors.  Some of the discussion involves technical concepts and language, but anyone who reads the book will have a better understanding of matters to consider in reading the Bible in context.]

Darrell Bock: Single Meaning, Multiple Contexts and Referrents

Bock, Dallas Theological Seminary professor and recent lecturer at SBTS, offers, in my opinion, the strongest argument for putting together the Old and New Testaments.  He is absolutely committed to grammatical-historical exegesis that seeks to understand each author, book, and passage in context (like Kaiser); at the same time, he is attuned to the impact that historical context (i.e. temporality) has on reading the Bible, thus he pays attention to the interpretive nuances of Second Temple Judaism (like Enns); but in contradistinction to both of Kaiser and Enns, he employs a textually-rooted, progressively developed biblical theology.  This can be seen in two ways:

First in his six presuppositions for reading Scripture: The Bible is God’s Word, 2) The one in the many (corporate solidarity), 3) Pattern of history (correspondence or typology), 4) these are the days of fulfillment, 5) now and not yet (the inaugurated fulfillment of Scripture), and 6) Jesus is the Christ (111).  These six elements are necessary to read Scripture canonically.  Second, Bock shows great understanding of the multi-faceted ways that the OT is “reused” in the NT: prophetic fulfillment, typological-prophetic, authoritative illustration, principle, allegory (though Bock limits this to Gal. 4), and OT ideas, language, and summaries (118-121)

Still the most helpful element of Bock’s chapter is his biblically-derived demonstration of the way Scriptural meaning retains “stability” while experiencing referential change–hence “single meaning, multiple contexts and referents.”  Much like Richard Lints three horizons (contextual, epochal, canonical) in The Fabric of Theology (which I highly recommend), Bock shows from Acts 4’s use of Psalm 2, Romans 10’s use of Deuteronomy 30, and 1 Corinthians 7’s use of 2 Samuel 7 and Leviticus 26 that the sense always remains the same, but the referents may vary.  So that in the second example, the sense remains the revelation of God, but the referent changes from the covenantal law of Deuteronomy to Jesus Christ who is the telos of the law (Rom. 10:4).  This explanation of sense and referent was very helpful in describing how God’s word remains the same and yet develops over time and in history.

On the whole, there was very little that I found to critique of Bock.  Interestingly, even Kaiser’s final response lacked argumentative force.  He found a few things with which to disagree but finished saying, “Yes, the meaning of the Bible is stable.  Later applications of that meaning can expand the field of referents.  But whether there are ‘fresh meanings’… need[s] more work” (158).  On the whole, Kaiser and Bock are similar in the way that they see the NT recapitulating OT people, events, promises, etc.  What Kaiser calls principalizing and analogous, Bock speaks of as typological patterns.  In this, I think Bock is more helpful because he expounds the meaning of the text and he also sees how the text can be interpreted at varying levels–epochal and canonical.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Three Views on the NT Use of the OT: Walter Kaiser

nt-ot

[In Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Peter Enns, Darrell Bock, and Walter Kaiser present three different approaches to biblical interpretation.  They address questions concerning sensius plenior, typology, Jewish methods of interpretation, matters of contextual interpretation, and whether or not we today can interpret the Bible like the New Testament authors.  Some of the discussion involves technical concepts and language, but anyone who reads the book will have a better understanding of matters to consider in reading the Bible in context.]

Walter Kaiser: Single Meaning, Unified Referrents

Kaiser, Old Testament scholar and former president of Gordon-Conwell, is a careful theologian and true biblical exegete.  Citing a host of OT-NT connections, Kaiser’s chapter simply unpacks Scripture to make his case.  The other scholars cite Scriptural examples, but appeal more often to hermeneutical philosophies (Bock) and second temple Judaism’s methods of interpretation (Enns).  In fact, both Bock and Enns chastise Kaiser for his simplistic reading of Scripture (92, 97). 

The great strength of Kaiser’s chapter is his demonstration of how to interpret the OT in its context and then to show that the NT authors read their OT correctly.  He argues for an antecedent theology that informs every OT passage.  As opposed to Enns, who must go to the NT to find ultimate, Christotelic meaning, Kaiser goes to Genesis 3:15ff to show the “Promise-Plan” of God provides ample Messianic witness in the OT itself.  This is a crucial distinction, and for me at least, a tremedously convincing argument for Kaiser and against Enns: the gospel is not just explained in the NT, it is to be found from the very beginning, pointing forward to the Promised Seed. 

To summarize, Kaiser argues for reading each passage in its historical context, he denies Sensius Plenior, he appeals to making analogy between OT and NT (in this way there is a sense of greater fulfillment, when NT patterns or echoes (R. Hays) are picked up), and he appeals to the unfolding plan of God within the OT to make sense of the OT context and that NT writers did that very thing.  The problems of reconciling OT with NT do not lie with the writers themselves; they lie in us and our inability to rightly divide the word, so that we can say that the OT writers did not write better then they knew (Sensius Plenior), rather they wrote better than we know.  As biblical interpreters, it is our prayerful responsibility to learn from them what they knew and what the Spirit was testifying to them and through them (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).

May we, with Walter Kaiser, labor to understand the grammar and historical setting of the Bible, and may we go on to see how all Scripture is fulfilled in Christ (John 5:39).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Three Views on the NT Use of the OT: Peter Enns

nt-otIn Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Peter Enns, Darrell Bock, and Walter Kaiser present three different approaches to biblical interpretation.  They address questions concerning sensius plenior, typology, Jewish methods of interpretation, matters of contextual interpretation, and whether or not we today can interpret the Bible like the New Testament authors.  Some of the discussion involves technical concepts and language, but anyone who reads the book will have a better understanding of matters to consider in reading the Bible in context.

What follows is simply a synopsis of their arguments, plus a list of further reading.

Peter Enns: Fuller Meaning, Single Goal

Enns, former Old Testament professor at Westminster Seminary, before being let go because of his questionable methods of interpretation (cf. Inspiration and Incarnation), spends exorbitant detail on matters unhelpful for putting the OT and NT together–a 15 page discussion on Deuteronomy 33:2 and the problem of understanding the law, angels, and traditions in Judaism.  He emphasizes Second Temple Judaism as a pre-requisite for understanding the NT.  Understanding this historical period and its literature and worldview nearly trumps OT reading and understanding.  Shocking!  He writes:

Rather, from a hermeneutical point of view at least, it is better to think of the NT as part of a larger group of texts of Jewish provenance–all of which, despite their real and important differences, together make up a distinct but diverse collection of texts we call ‘Second Temple literature’ (178)

The problem with this is that Enns blurs the boundaries of canon.  He reformulates the NT documents into a portion of a larger and more important (?) body of literature.  He goes on: “The focus of this essay is more on similarities between the NT and other Second Temple texts” (178).  I thought that this book was about the Old Testament and the New?  Clearly, Enns is shaping his reading of the Bible along the lines of extra-biblical literature–this trend always leads to hermeneutical and doctrinal deviation.  This kind of deviation can be seen more evidently in his statement on the previous page (177) that again confuses inspired revelation and other Second Temple literature when he says that both are “God-given.”  Is this a 2 Timothy 3:16 kind of “God-given”?

To be fair, Enns does make some positive contributions.  His emphasis on reading the Bible eschatologically and in light of the death and resurrection of Christ show how important the whole storyline of Scripture is to understanding individual passages and the Bible’s inter-textuality.  Still, Enns roots all his meaning in the NT, almost stripping the OT of any content or standing on its own.  I appreciate his Christotelic view, but he begins in the wrong place.  It would be better to begin in Genesis 1 and move forward finding God’s progressive revelation of the Promised Seed, the son of blessing, the prophet like Moses, the royal Davidite; instead he goes straight to the NT and returns to explain the OT.  To borrow a technological metaphor, he makes the programs of the OT absolutely dependent on the applications of the NT.

In sum, he supports typology and sensius plenior and he makes mention of them in passing, but the takeaway from his essay is the need to understand the NT in the light of Second Temple Judaism and to read the Scriptures knowing the rest of the story.  After reading his section, I was more convinced of Kaiser’s exegetically secure position, that may lack modern nuances in interpretive method, but that exalts in the sufficiency of the Scriptures.  Moreover, I was appreciative of Bock’s recognition of Second Temple Judaism, but also his ability to put on the brakes and not be completely swept away by extra-biblical informants.

Finally, I will say that I appreciate Enns ecclesial sensitivity and pastoral admonition to take more time in church to teach our people the whole counsel of Scripture (216).  This concluding word is a fitting way to end a chapter on how to read the OT and the NT.  Since our churches are filled with biblically illiterate people today, we who teach God’s Word must be willing to patiently and wisely instruct them with all 66 Christ-centered books of the canon.  This is not optional, but essential and part of the task of being a faithful expositor–to help church members read the Bible better.

More to come…

 Sola Deo Gloria, dss

N.T. Wright: The New Testament and the People of God

new-testament-and-the-people

N.T. Wright.  The New Testament and the People of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God.  Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1992.

In N.T. Wright’s first book in a series of three (with two more projected), the British New Testament scholar gives a full-orbed presentation (535 pp.) on the history, culture, and worldview of the land and the people into which Jesus was born and from which Christianity arose.

Part I introduces the book and the extended project.  He attempts to show that premodern, modern, and postmodern attempts at interpreting Scripture are all deficient, and that a synthesis of premodern’s authority, modernity’s critical eye, and postmodernity’s subjective impulse are needed to rightly understand the Bible.  He procedes to layout a three-fold method for considering the NT–examining its history, literature, and theology, which he unites with studies about Jesus, the gospels, and Paul, respectively. 

Part II picks up these three evaluative lens.  After dealing with issues of epistemology in chapter 2, Wright develops his understandings of history (3), literature (4), and theology and authority (5).  His interpretive grid is that of a “critical realist” (44-46) and he argues that we should understand the Bible according to its meta- and micro- narratives (this is developed further in chapters 13-14: “The Stories in Christianity”).   In his chapter on “Literature, Story, and Worldview,” Wright addresses the problems of hermeneutics, language, and reading.  He suggests a hermeneutic of love and goes on to propose a worldview-informing narrative hermeneutic.  Reading the Bible as an interactive story upholds the immutable Bible and the interpretive challenges of an everchanging world–in this Wright seems to fuse modern and postmodern tendencies.  Chapters 4 develops the view that history is never objective and that intrinsically it should be seen as historiography, history delivered with specific authorial intent to shape the account through selectivity, sequencing, and shaping.  Chapter 5 finishes his introductory section by considering the worldview-shaping effects of narrative theology.

Part III is comprised of five chapters that recreate the world of second temple Judaism (fourth century BC – first century AD).  In Chapter 6, Wright gives an historical account of the Greco-Roman world that dominates the landscape for the Jewish people.  Chapter 7 subdivides the Jewish thoughtlife, societal structures, and political machinations to show the diversity of second-temple Judaism.  While chapters 8-10, unfold the Jewish heritage, highlighting the stories, symbols, and praxis that shape their day-to-day life (8), tracing the storyline that informs contemporary beliefs (9), and referencing the apocalyptic hope that the Jew’s maintained in the face of enemy oppression (10).  

Wright bases much of his findings on the works of Josephus and much intertestamental Jewish writings.  His analyses contravene many historical positions on the 1st Century Judaism, while helpfully demonstrating the variations of Jewish belief at the time of Jesus’ birth.  Nevertheless, it is evident that he is clearing the way for New Perspective teachings on Paul (aka E.P. Sanders and James Dunn), which deny any kind of works-based righteousness–which will redefine justification by faith alone– and promotes a responsive covenantal nominianism (law-keeping)–that advocates a kind of “gracious” law-keeping.  (For a response to this see: John Piper’s The Future of Justification).

Wright juxtaposes the Jews with the oppression of the Roman empire and shows why covenantal markers are so important to the Jewish people.  He articulates that since the zenith of the covenant is dwelling in God’s presence (i.e. in the land and within the Temple), and that when this function is disable or at least inhibited by sin that leads to exile that leads to indwelling opposition in the land, that the Jews recast dwelling with God with covenantal markers (i.e. circumcision, Sabbath, ritualistic days, etc).  The difference between OT and NT is not type and fulfillment, but spacio-temporal, obeying the Torah becomes preeminent to keep covenant.  Entering the covenant is assumed by birthright.   Wright’s emphasis is clearly more corporate, to the detrimental exclusion individuals and their need to be reconciled to God.  While emphasizing the covenantal and corporate elements of salvation (of which he speaks in exodus language, restoration from exile), he minimizes the doctrine of personal salvation.  Moreover, nowhere in his lengthy discussion does he include matters of personal guilt, individual transgression, or need for atonement (cf. Ezek. 18; Leviticus 1-6, 16), leaving essential matters of redemption out of his discussion.   Consequently, he seems to be working with a semi-Pelagian understanding (anachronistically applied to second-temple Judaism, I understand) of the Jewish nations ability to keep covenant.

The value of Part III is its illuminating descriptions of second temple Judaism; the criticisms are clearly the New Perspective emphases which undermine the Reformation doctrines of salvation.

Part IV is the most helpful section in the book.  Chapter 12 begins with a discussion of praxis, symbols, and worldview that informed second-temple Judaism, but more pertinently shaped the first-century Christian community.  Looking particularly at the significance of the Land, the Temple, and the Torah, Wright asserts that all were updated in Christ, so that in the NT they take on metaphorical realities.  His approach in this chapter is overtly cultural-historical-sociological, not biblical-theological.  (This is a trait that runs throughout the book.  Wright devotes most of his energy retelling the story of the people from a sociological angle, not an exegetical outworking of the Biblical canon).  Nonetheless, his typological applicatons to Christ do stress the OT shape of the NT.

Chapters 13 and 14 unfold the message(s) of the biblical authors.  Chapter 13 examines the form and function of the synoptic gospels, the Pauline letters, Hebrews, and the Johannine corpus.  This chapter masterfully displays the wisdom and the logic of the NT writers, who retell the story of Israel in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  For instance, Wright compares Luke’s gospel to the work of Josephus–both of whom are making an apology to the Roman empire–and he goes on to show how the doctor recaptures the Samuel narratives to provide the outline of his Davidic biography.  Moreover, Matthew seems to employ Deuteronomy to construct his gospel, and Mark utilized Daniel as an apocalyptic narrative.  These intracanonical connections demonstrate the NT use and dependence on the OT.  In so doing, Wright argues that this more that simple typology.  It is rather a kind of mindset that sees the history of Israel being recapitulated (my word, not his) in the life of Jesus and the church.  Paul further does this in inviting Gentiles into the story of Jesus, the Israel of God.

Chapter 14 moves from the larger units (NT books) to the contents of those books–Jesus teaching, miracle stories, parables, etc.  He argues that these did not develop over time, but from the beginning they were well-formed.  He explains why this is so, using simply analogous logic, appealing to the ways stories are told and retold.

Finally, Wright concludes with an overarching description of first-century Christianity in “The Early Christians: A Preliminary Sketch” (15).  The take away point is that Christianity’s identity is fully Jewish.  The earliest church was shaped not by the historical events of Jesus life only.  Rather Jesus life and the birth of the church were understood, defined, and developed according to the well established patterns and promises of the OT, so that the life, death, and resurrection–an old testament pattern of exodus–was “according to the Scriptures.”  Without hesitation, this is the most helpful aspect of the book.  It makes the reader more aware of the intracanonical connections by way of appeal to historical-cultural-sociological expectations of the Jews.

The book is long and filled with abberrant teaching about the doctrines of justification and sin, but its Jewish reading of the Scriptures is very helpful and worth perusing.  I look forward to reading, with cautious selectivity, the other books in this series.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss